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Old ways guru comes starkly face-to-face with a new way

Dean Campbell

 

Palm Sunday, 2020. Following worship service and an early lunch, I sat down at my desktop keyboard and began what was to be my next scheduled Old Ways column.

Since my last one was not being published for another five days and would be taking a comical look at possible perils of hoarding toilet paper, the new column needed to be on a more serious subject.

Little did I realize just how serious it would be and would not appear until mid-July.

The first wave of extreme burning in my chest should have been a clue, as I remembered one other time when this kind of burning prompted a request to my family doctor for something strong for heartburn. “Describe the burning,” he said, “because you don’t get heartburn.”

When I did, he said, “That isn’t heartburn,” and asked his nurse to make me an appointment with my cardiologist. “It’s more likely a blockage. You already have two stents in one of your arteries.” He proved to be right and I was given two additional stents.

The second wave of extreme burning left no doubt. This had to be something more serious. I called 911 for a first responder, unlocked my front door and positioned myself on the couch nearest it, in case I passed out before the ambulance arrived.

Then I called my niece who was attending church in Greer, letting her know to contact EMS to find me at the hospital. She was on her way home and actually arrived about three minutes before the ambulance.

During the 26-mile ride to Greenville Memorial’s ER, I was asked my pain level. “No actual pain, but my chest is on fire.”

An immediate loading dose of Plavix (blood thinner) and a heart catheterization revealed major blockages. “How many,” I asked. “Three major ones, we don’t know how many others until we do surgery.”

Time was allowed for Plavix to dissipate and surgery was not scheduled until early on April 8.

Dr. Barry Davis performed a five-bypass open heart operation, which included sequential graft to the first diagonal coronary artery and the second diagonal coronary artery; left internal mammary artery for bypass graft to the distal left anterior descending coronary artery; single vein graft to the second obtuse marginal coronary artery; and single vein graft to the posterior lateral branch of the right coronary artery.

In simpler terms, they remade my heart.

I tolerated the procedure well and was taken to the CVICU intubated and sedated. There I was given a red, well-stuffed, heart-shaped cushion that I was told would become my best friend.

It became just that every time I burped, coughed, or, God forbid, sneezed. Holding it tight against my chest brought instant relief during these episodes. I named mine “Bobby McGee.”

After eight more days in a regular hospital room, I was allowed to go to a nephew’s home for transitioning to Interim Home Health care before going to my own home in two weeks.

Not one episode of heart pain was experienced, but my legs were swollen to excess pressure since my release from CVICU. Ample incisions in each leg for harvesting saphenous veins became deep wounds. Eventually, wearing a portable wound vac was necessary for four weeks to effect healing of them and I was not released by my surgical team and Home Health team until July 10.

My body ridded itself of 40 pounds of fluid in those 92 days and my left leg is still half again the size of my right one.

Six weeks of outpatient heart rehab should help in adjusting that disparity and allow my body to begin adding back lost muscle.

I can’t help but wonder, could I have avoided this new way of working on the heart had I taken more of my own advice for the past 35 years in following a number of the old, natural ways of strengthening and maintaining it?